MacArthur Foundation

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John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
MacArth primary logo stacked.svg
Founded1970; 51 years ago (1970)[1][2]
FocusClimate change, nuclear challenges, non-profit journalism, local issues in Chicago
John Palfrey[3]
Key people
John D. MacArthur (co-founder)
Catherine T. MacArthur (co-founder)
Endowment$7.0 billion Edit this at Wikidata

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is a private foundation that makes grants and impact investments to support non-profit organizations in approximately 50 countries around the world. It has an endowment of $7.0 billion and provides approximately $260 million annually in grants and impact investments.[4][5] It is based in Chicago, and in 2014 it was the 12th-largest private foundation in the United States.[6] It has awarded more than US$6.8 billion since its first grants in 1978.[1]

The foundation's stated purpose is to support "creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world".[4][7] MacArthur's grant-making priorities include mitigating climate change, reducing jail populations, decreasing nuclear threats, supporting nonprofit journalism, and funding local needs in its hometown of Chicago.[8] According to the OECD, the foundation’s financing for 2019 development increased by 27% to US$109 million.[9] The MacArthur Fellows Program, also referred to as "genius grants" or "genius award",[10] annually gives $625,000 no-strings-attached grants to around two dozen creative individuals in diverse fields[11] "who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits".[10] The Foundation's 100&Change competition awards a $100 million grant every three years to a single proposal.[12]


John D. MacArthur owned Bankers Life and Casualty and other businesses, as well as considerable property holdings in Florida and New York. His wife, Catherine, held positions in many of these companies. Their attorney, William T. Kirby, and Paul Doolen, their chief financial officer, suggested that the family create a foundation to be endowed by their vast fortune. One of the reasons MacArthur originally set up the Foundation was to avoid taxes.[13][14]

When MacArthur died on January 6, 1978, he was worth in excess of a billion dollars. He left 92 percent of his estate to found the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Its first board of directors, per MacArthur's will, also included J. Roderick MacArthur, John's son from his first marriage, two other officers of Bankers Life and Casualty, and radio commentator Paul Harvey.[1] Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine, later joined the board of directors.[15]

The elder MacArthur believed in the free market.[16][17] However, he did not direct how foundation money was to be spent after he died. MacArthur told the board of directors, "I figured out how to make the money. You fellows will have to figure out how to spend it."[18]

Between 1979 and 1981, John's son, an ideological opponent of his father with whom the elder MacArthur had an acrimonious relationship, waged a legal battle against the foundation for control of the board of directors.[13] The younger MacArthur sued eight members of the board, accusing them of mismanagement of the foundation funds.[19][20]

By 1981, most of the original board had been replaced by members who agreed with J. Roderick MacArthur's desire to support liberal causes.[21] This ultimately resulted in the creation of what, in 2008, historian[22][23] and conservative commentator[24] Martin Morse Wooster called "one of the pillars of the liberal philanthropic establishment".[25] In 1984, MacArthur again sued the board of directors, asking a Cook County circuit court to liquidate the entire MacArthur Foundation. He dropped the suit later that same year when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.[26][27]


John E. Corbally, the first president of the foundation and later board chairman from 1995 to 2002, was followed in 1989–99 by Adele Simmons, who was the first female dean at Princeton University.[28][29] Jonathan Fanton, president of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, served as the foundation's next president.[28][30] Robert Gallucci, formerly dean of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, served as the foundation's fourth president from 2009 to 2014.[28][31] Gallucci was fired in 2014.[32] Julia Stasch, who formerly served as MacArthur's vice president for U.S. Programs, was named the foundation's president in 2015.[1] Stasch had been chief of staff to Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley.[33] She announced that she would step down in 2019.[34] In March 2019, John Palfrey was named president, effective September 1, 2019.[35]

MacArthur Fellowship[edit]

The MacArthur Fellowship is an award issued by the MacArthur Foundation each year, to typically 20 to 30 citizens or residents of the United States, of any age and working in any field, who "show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work". The program was initiated in 1981.[36] According to the Foundation, the fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment, but an investment in a person's originality and potential. As of 2015, MacArthur Fellows receive $625,000 each, which is paid out in quarterly installments over five years.[37] The Chicago Foundation for Women was one of the nonprofit organizations to receive a US$1 million four-year grant in 2017.[38] No one can apply for the program, and, generally, no one knows whether he or she is being considered as a candidate. Nominators, serving confidentially, anonymously and for a limited time, are invited to recommend potential Fellows. Candidates are reviewed by a selection committee whose members also serve confidentially, anonymously and for a limited time. Ultimately, the selection committee makes recommendations to the Foundation's board of directors for final approval.[11]


In June 2016, the foundation requested "proposals promising real progress toward solving a critical problem of our time in any field or any location". The winning proposal would receive a $100 million grant. Almost 2,000 proposals were submitted. In December 2017, the foundation announced that the winning proposal was submitted by the Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee. The grant was applied to the education of Middle Eastern refugee children.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "MacArthur Foundation: Our History". MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  2. ^ Nicas, Jack (September 20, 2011). "The New Class of 'Geniuses'". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  3. ^ "President - MacArthur Foundation".
  4. ^ a b "MacArthur Foundation: Chicago Grants". Inside Philanthropy. Retrieved June 3, 2015.
  5. ^ "Program Budgets". MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  6. ^ "Top 100 U.S. Foundations by Asset Size". Foundation Center. Retrieved June 3, 2015.
  7. ^ "About Us". MacArthur Foundation. Archived from the original on June 30, 2015. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  8. ^ Daniels, Alex (January 11, 2016). "Inside MacArthur's Rapid Strategic Shift to 'Big Bets'". The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Retrieved June 23, 2016.
  9. ^ "Development Co-operation Profiles – John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation". OECD iLibrary.
  10. ^ a b Montevideo, Mickey Y. (October 3, 2011). "Alumna receives MacArthur Foundation's 'genius award'". UGA Today. Retrieved June 25, 2020.
  11. ^ a b Conrad, Cecilia (September 20, 2013). "Five Myths about the MacArthur 'Genius Grants'". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 23, 2016.
  12. ^ "100&Change". 100&Change. Retrieved November 19, 2020.
  13. ^ a b Nielsen, Waldemar (1996). Inside American Philanthropy: The Dramas of Donorship. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 132–34. ISBN 9780806128023. Retrieved September 1, 2016 – via Internet Archive.
  14. ^ Worley, Sam (August 17, 2015). "Can the MacArthur Foundation Find Its Mojo?". Chicago Magazine. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
  15. ^ Sherrow, Victoria (2009). Jonas Salk (Revised ed.). Infobase Publishing. p. 99. ISBN 9781438104119.
  16. ^ Husock, Howard (December 4, 2015). "Trust Chan and Zuckerberg to Decide How to Spend Their Money for the Public Good". The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Retrieved October 12, 2016.
  17. ^ Hauer, Peter W. (2011). The Big Picture: The Past, The Present, & Your Children's Future. Author House. p. 355. ISBN 9781420815351.
  18. ^ Frantz, Douglas (July 7, 1985). "'Charitable Patronage' Still Gets Foundation's Work Done". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 12, 2016.
  19. ^ Teltsch, Kathleen (May 25, 1991). "Foundation Leader Charting New Paths". The New York Times. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
  20. ^ Kathleen, Teltsch (June 3, 1984). "Suit to Continue Against Foundation". The New York Times. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
  21. ^ Kriplen, Nancy (2008). The Eccentric Billionaire: John D. MacArthur—Empire Builder, Reluctant Philanthropist, Relentless Adversary. Amacom. ISBN 9780814409626. Retrieved September 1, 2016 – via Internet Archive.
  22. ^ Canning, C. (2015). On the Performance Front: US Theatre and Internationalism. Springer. ISBN 9781137543301. Retrieved October 13, 2016 – via Google Books. As historian Martin Morse Wooster comments...
  23. ^ Dietlin, Lisa M. (2011). Transformational Philanthropy: Entrepreneurs and Nonprofits. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. ISBN 9781449667610. Retrieved October 13, 2016 – via Google Books. Martin Morse Wooster, a historian and author of the book The Greatest Philanthropists and the Problem of Donor Intent
  24. ^ Brest, Paul; Harvey, Hal (2010). Money Well Spent: A Strategic Plan for Smart Philanthropy. John Wiley & Sons. p. 278. ISBN 9780470885345. Retrieved October 12, 2016 – via Google Books.
  25. ^ Morse Wooster, Martin (Summer 2008). "The Inscrutable Billionaire". Philanthropy Magazine. Philanthropy Roundtable. Retrieved October 12, 2016.
  26. ^ Kleban Mills, Barbara (September 10, 1984). "The MacArthur 'Genius' Awards Are Jeopardized as the Dying Patron Attacks the Foundation". People (magazine). Retrieved September 1, 2016.
  27. ^ Browning, Graeme (July 27, 1984). "The son of the man who established the $1.5 billion foundation". United Press International. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
  28. ^ a b c "MacArthur Foundation: Past Presidents". MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  29. ^ Fellers, Li (July 26, 2004). "Dr. John Corbally, 79: First President Helped Establish MacArthur Foundation Identity". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  30. ^ "People in the News (4/20/14): Appointments and Promotions". Philanthropy News Digest. April 20, 2014. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
  31. ^ Spector, Mike (March 10, 2009). "Former Diplomat to Lead MacArthur Foundation". The Wall Street Journal. p. A2. Retrieved March 10, 2009.
  32. ^ Callahan, David (May 3, 2014). "Why Did Mac Sack Bob?". Inside Philanthropy. Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  33. ^ Callahan, David (March 13, 2015). "Julia Stasch Atop MacArthur: Change or More of the Same? Maybe Both". Inside Philanthropy. Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  34. ^ Johnson, Steve (September 25, 2018). "MacArthur Foundation President Julia Stasch to step down next year". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  35. ^ "John Palfrey Named New MacArthur President". MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
  36. ^ Reich, Howard (January 12, 2016). "MacArthur Fellows Program unveils wide-ranging events". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
  37. ^ Calamur, Krishnadev (September 29, 2015). "'Geniuses' Revealed". The Atlantic. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
  38. ^ "Chicago Foundation for Women Awarded $1 Million MacArthur Foundation Grant - Gay Lesbian Bi Trans News Archive". Windy City Times. July 17, 2017. Retrieved May 6, 2019.
  39. ^ Johnson, Steve (December 20, 2017). "Sesame Workshop child refugee plan wins first MacArthur $100M challenge". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 20, 2018.

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